A/N: Another future fic HitsuHina story. I read a bunch of stories about Hinamori waking up and being very broken and small and sad. And Hitsugaya is always wonderful and understanding and patient and so on. And I think these depictions are true, to a degree. But I also think he's a relatively young man with a lot of emotion going on under that calm surface, and she's a tougher chick than many seem to think. I mean, she thought her childhood best friend was a killer, and instead of collapsing in her cell and weeping until she fainted, she got up, got her sword, and went to kick his ass. So. I started this with the intention of writing a no-joke 100 word drabble wherein they have a conversation. And before I knew it...well, the conversation went kind of south.
Standard disclaimers apply.
The first three days after Hinamori woke from her long coma, Hitsugaya learned the definition of hell, and discovered that he was in it.
"She probably just needs space," Abarai told him, and because he knew that the red-head had been her close companion, he kept his distance.
He devised several new training maneuvers for his division, and then carried them out with a ferocity that resulted in some of the best review-scores tenth division had ever seen and some of worst stress-related maladies fourth division had dealt with in centuries. He went out far beyond the Rukongai's walls and practiced with Hyourinmaru until his body felt as battered as the terrain around him, and even the dragon admonished him for his overzealousness. He did all his paperwork and some more of the still-disorganized fifth division's work, too. He listened to the fourth division's reports on her condition with tight lips and narrowed eyes. And then he went back outside the walls.
It took him three days before he felt stable enough to see her. She stared at him with confused, frightened eyes and asked him why everyone kept saying Captain Aizen was dead. Then she asked if it had been a trick by someone else to make her turn on her Captain, and her fingers pressed tightly against the bandages around her chest.
There was a blizzard outside the Rukongai that night.
"She really just needs time," Matsumoto assured him, and because he saw the familiar shadows of grief and betrayal in his Lieutenant's eyes, he waited. He made a point of stopping there every day, but he kept his visits short and efficient. He said little, allowing her to speak first, move first, acknowledge him. Most of the time she asked questions, and he answered as honestly as he could. He told her what had happened, everything she had missed and the things that were still happening. There was a drawback to that method of approach, however. He could only tell her what had been done to her.
He could not tell her why.
"She just needs careful handling," Captain Uohana warned, and because he respected her medical knowledge and experience, he summoned every ounce of patience he had ever possessed.
He answered her hysterical questions with calm responses, though the broken whimper in her voice cut deep into his chest. He allowed her to throw his attempts to help feed or move her back in his face, though his guts twisted with every insulting retort. He allowed her to rage – first at him, then at her lost captain, and finally at herself - until she wore herself down into a sobbing heap, though it made his head throb and his chest constrict. He allowed her to burn her way through the many stages of guilt until it almost made him sick. He spent hours coaxing her to walk outside, to eat all her food, to respond to the world around her, to smile, to laugh, to live again.
Sometimes she picked at the food. Sometimes she ate it with the weariness of a slave obeying a master. Sometimes she pushed it aside and flat out refused to touch it. Her treatment of him was little better. And at night, while he stood outside her room and tried very hard not to blow the sky apart, she cried.
It took her three weeks to stop asking if Captain Aizen was truly dead. It took another four days for her to stop saying how very stupid and blind she had been. By the end of the fourth week, she stopped talking altogether.
By the fifth week, as he noted that her eyes were almost sunken and her hair hadn't been brushed in days, he was done.
He was done waiting. He was done watching. He was done with standing by and letting her smash herself against a memory that only smiled and waited for her to break.
He put the tray of soft, nutritional dumplings that Uohana had prescribed for her weakened digestive system in front of her, and held one out to her. "Eat."
She turned her head away.
He leaned in, and something in his aura must have alerted her, because her head snapped to stare at him. "Eat." His voice was low, almost threatening. Subordinates had flown to obey him when he spoke with that tone, yelling back their apologies as they scrambled out of his immediate vicinity. Hinamori simply looked at him.
"Because we're done," he told her flatly. "You're done destroying yourself for something you couldn't foresee and couldn't have stopped anyway. And I'm done letting you do it. Eat it. Now."
"What makes you think," she said slowly, voice hoarse with disuse. She had to stop and swallow hard to clear it, and when she spoke again it was marginally smoother, and there was a hint of something that he hoped was strength under the rasp. "What makes you think that I will obey you?"
"You don't have to obey me," he retorted, still holding the dumpling out to her. "You could, of course. You could take this food and eat it like a grownup. Or you can sit there and disobey me, and I will force it down your throat. One way or another, you are going to eat. All of it. And then you're going to get up out of that chair you've been in for hours, walk away from that window you've been staring out of for days, and talk to someone besides the ghosts in your head. But first, you're going to eat."
"Go away, Hitsugaya," she spat, switching suddenly from listless to angry. "Go play with the other captains and congratulate yourselves about how strong you've all gotten. Go away!" She clenched her fingers tightly into the faded robes she now wore and turned her head again, glowering out the window. He recognized the change in tactics immediately: if she couldn't chase him away with indifference, she might be able to shove him away with words. It had been working for her so far; he usually left when she got like this, to avoid upsetting her.
"You don't have to do this," he said tightly. "No one thinks that you're weak or cowardly because you fell for his traps. We all did."
"I don't care what they think."
"You don't have to hurt yourself because someone you cared about turned out to be a liar and a monster. He's the one you should be angry with."
"I am." Her voice was cold, almost dispassionate, and she enunciated every word with elaborate care. "I am so angry sometimes that I want to explode with it."
"Then why don't you focus on hurting him, not yourself!"
"He was my captain. He was everything that I believed I wanted to be. He was everything I wanted." She refused to look at him as she said it, as if she knew exactly how deeply those words had sliced into him. "And he tried to kill me. Sometimes I wonder if he didn't succeed."
His fists tightened reflexively. "You're still alive," he ground out between clenched teeth. Outside, the wind started to pick up, sending a sharp chill slicing through the evening shadows.
She paused, watching a few leaves swirl against the ground. Softly, almost to herself, she murmured. "I still can't figure out why."
"Because you're stronger than he thought. You're tougher. You're better than this, Hinamori" He heard the windowpane rattle as the fitful gusts outside elevated to a stronger storm wind, and knew that it was nothing compared to the riding gale inside his chest. "You're not dead because you're too damn strong to just lie down and die. You're still alive because somewhere inside you there's a person who thinks this world is a worthwhile place, even without the wonderful captain you thought you knew."
Control yourself, Hyourinmaru whispered, and he forced himself to breathe. "You can't keep tearing yourself apart from the inside out," he said at length. "You're better than that, and we both know it. You're only finishing what he started, doing his work for him."
And still she wouldn't look up from that damn window. "Maybe" she whispered over the sound of the wind, "that's all I've ever been good for."
He jerked to his feet, and the tense set of her chin told him that she figured he was leaving, probably storming out. The glint in her eye said that she was waiting for him to go before breaking down into tears again.
He slapped her.
The sound echoed in the deadly-silent room. Even the wind outside seemed to have ceased as abruptly as it had begun. Hinamori looked up at him as he towered over her, eyes wide, cheek slowly turning red, and her jaw began to clench. Hitsugaya lowered his hand back to his side and lowered the walls that had been holding in all the rage and fear and worry, let the screen of forced patience and distance and careful handling drop.
He felt the air in the room shift -
- and threw himself backwards just in time to avoid the sudden blast of flame that singed his left eyebrow and burst wildly against the wall.
"Bastard!" she screamed, and it was not the tearful cry of a frightened and broken young woman that he had been listening to on and off for weeks. It was the enraged shriek of a young woman who was, by all appearances, about to pound his ass into the asphalt.
He opened his arms, and she obliged him by throwing her full weight at his exposed neck and chest. He could have moved to the left, offset her momentum and sent her crashing to the floor. He could have moved back and out of her reach, forcing her to jump again, and then pinned her against the wall. He could have jumped up, over, and behind her, catching and twisting her flailing arm as he went until she was unable to move.
He did none of those things. He moved forward, into her weight, and the crash sent them both tumbling down. He hit the wooden floor with his back, taking the brunt of her weight and his own. She was almost pathetically thin now, what with her illness and subsequent refusal to eat, and he had grown in physical strength as well as spiritual in the time she had been unconscious, so it was easy for him to grab her forearms and drag her off of him. He dropped her on the floor next to him, but before he could let go, she twisted her wrists and dug her nails into the insides of his elbows. He winced, and she kicked out. He narrowly avoided the heel that otherwise would have landed on the inside of his hip, but he had to let go of her arms to do it. She was still quick enough to roll away from him and up to her feet before he could grab her leg.
"You don't understand!" she screeched. "I loved him!"
"You loved a lie!"
"I know that! That's what hurts! I loved him and he wasn't even real." Her voice wavered. He felt the shift in her aura and knew that she was turning from anger to depression. "I loved him," she whispered, and he almost spat in response.
"He didn't love you."
She launched herself again, screaming a high, wordless battle cry that rang in his ears and reverberated around in his head. He didn't pause to consider it, though, as he caught her again, but this time he slung her body around him and across the room. She landed against the windowsill, and he had one hand twisted in her loose hair and the other gripping the back of her robe before her feet had fully touched the floor. He jerked her towards him, trying to pin her arms to her sides with his own. He managed to get the left tucked safely under his upper arm, but her right hand twisted free and she lashed out with her nails again, aiming wildly for his face. He ducked, but her hand latched on to his collar and she pulled. The sudden loss of air made him gasp a little, and he used his body weight to send them both crashing against the little bed that Hinamori spent entirely too much time in lately.
The bed toppled with a crash, and she somehow managed to slip from his arms as he rolled to get clear of the entangling sheets.
"Why are you giving up?" he demanded. "Why are you letting him do this to you when he isn't even here to witness it?"
"What would you have me do?" she shot back, just as fierce. "Act like nothing ever happened? Walk around and smile and eat and pretend that everyone I see and everything I do doesn't in some way remind me of him?" She kicked at his head, but he caught her foot on Hyourinmaru's scabbard and pushed her back. She landed on her knees, and he swung the sheathed blade at her, hard enough to bruise her palms as she lifted Tobiume to block. She angled her blade downward, and his momentum worked against him, sending him sliding to the right and down around her feet again.
He felt Hyourinmaru's warning surge of ice in his veins, and before he had even turned to look up at her, he threw himself to the side, feeling the hiss of fire as it flew by his left shoulder. Now he did use shunpo, flash-stepping into her swing radius and wrapping his hand around the still-warm blade of Tobiume before she could fire at him again. "I don't expect you to act like it never happened," he yelled, inches from her face. He twisted, and the blade wrenched free from her weakened grip. "But you could try!"
"Why?" She threw a hand into his face and he narrowly deflected the blast of demon fire. "What difference does it make if I do or not? What does it matter if I pretend this shell I've become is still the person I was?"
He bared his teeth at the words, and matched her wide-eyed rage with a narrow glare. "It makes all the difference in the world, idiot!" He snatched her arm, stopping her incoming punch, and pushed the neutralized limb to the side. "And you're not a shell - you're changed, but somewhere in there, you're still you."
He was still clutching her sword in one hand and her captured forearm in the other, and she used the grip on her arm as leverage to swing her legs up and into his chest. She shoved with her legs, and he reeled back a step, losing his grip on her arm but still holding her captured sword. She was tiring, he could see it in the way her body trembled and her lungs labored to breathe, but her fury raged still.
And of course nothing was wrong with her tongue. "It doesn't matter," she howled. "None of it matters! I'm already broken, Toushiro!"
"Like hell you are." He threw the sword against the now-smoldering remains of the bed and extended a hand towards her, inviting her to come at him again.
She beat at him, using her fists and nails and even, once, teeth. He rushed into the inferno, fell back, wrestled her off, and then rushed back in again. She screamed until her throat was raw, and he bellowed right back. He leaped over her and she landed a solid blow between his shoulder blades before he could turn to face her. She danced back but he followed, hounding after her every retreat until she was trapped against a corner. He grabbed her again, and this time managed to get her in a tight hold that she couldn't break, no matter how wildly she struggled and slammed her body around inside the cage of his arms.
Seconds, minutes, hours later – he wasn't sure and he was too tired to care – she stopped kicking and straining, and simply leaned away from him, maybe hoping that the strain would wear him out and he'd let her fall.
He did no such thing, if anything clutching her tighter as she panted against his chest. She went boneless against him, and he went down on his knees, letting her weight drape evenly between him and the floor. How long they stayed that way, he also neither knew nor cared. Eventually, when her ragged breathing was calm again and her body stopped shaking, she let her fingers relax their death-grip on his sleeves. She moved her forehead until it was resting against the hollow of his shoulder, and after a moment's hesitation he shifted until his back was against the wall and she was curled between his knees, pressed against his chest.
"You were really angry with me," she murmured against his neck.
"Because of Aizen?"
He said nothing for a long moment, long enough that the muscles in her shoulders and legs tightened. Absently he rubbed a hand against her back. "Not really. Like I said, we were all fooled."
"Because of how I've been acting, then."
"You're not broken." He told her, and his voice left no room for argument. "If you were broken, you'd have died long ago. He didn't break you." He paused, as if considering whether or not to continue, and then finally said, very softly, "No one's going to break you."
"I…I just…." She sighed, and closed her eyes tightly. "I worked so hard to make him proud of me. Everything I did, every advance I made and every goal I set and achieved, it was all to make him see that I really cared about being a shinigami. It was all so he'd be proud." She swallowed, and he tightened his grip just a little in warning. "But he was never proud of me. He just made me think he was so I'd be the little pawn he needed."
"It couldn't have all been for him," he replied after a moment. "You didn't go to the Academy for him. You wanted to be a shinigami on your own, for your own reasons. You didn't leave m- you didn't leave the Rukongai for him."
"You became a Lieutenant in the Gotei Thirteen. It doesn't matter why you did it; you're still strong enough to be one. You didn't stop being strong when he left."
"No," her voice was lower and raspy now, hoarse from her long disuse and then abuse, and he could feel the edges of exhaustion wrapping around her. "It didn't, I guess."
"No guessing," he leaned his head back against the wall. Somewhere on the edges of his senses, he felt a powerful spirit-force moving away. Uohana, probably. In all likelihood she'd been hovering out there since the fight had begun. He mentally thanked her for not stopping it, and wondered how he was going to explain it to her later.
"I didn't eat the dumpling," she said quietly, and his eyes snapped open.
He glanced to the side, and eyed the upturned tray, underneath which half a dozen medicinal dumplings were scattered and squashed on the floor, and a cracked soup bowl was leaking a watery puddle of broth slowly into the cracks in the floor.
"No, you didn't," he replied, because he couldn't think of anything else to say. He hoped the fourth division captain was as forgiving about her floors as she would have to be about her furniture. While his particular unorthodox method of healing had apparently been effective…they had made something of a mess in the invalid's room. He rolled his shoulders a little and felt the beginnings of a massive bruise between his shoulder blades. Some invalid, he thought.
"I...I think I'm going to be…."
"Nothing. I just wanted to tell you that I think…" He didn't look down or open his eyes, but he knew she was smiling anyway. "I think things are going to be alright."
"Yeah," he said, and didn't resist the answering smile that quirked his own lips up for a moment. He listened as her breathing deepened and she slipped away into healing sleep. "I think they are too," he whispered, and followed her there.